Contact with a child is how and when a child gets to spend time with a parent or other person who does not have day-to-day care of them. It used to be called access.
Supervised contact is where contact with a child takes place in a safe, controlled situation, overseen by someone such as a relative or an organisation or individual. It is most often used when one parent has been violent, either towards the other parent or towards the child. Supervised contact can give a parent the chance to rebuild their relationship with their child.
The court can make an Order about supervised contact if the judge has concerns about a child’s safety – for example, if there have been allegations of violence or a Protection Order has been made. The court can also order supervised contact in situations that don’t involve violence – for example, to reintroduce a parent to a child when they haven’t been in contact for a while.
The order can be for contact to be supervised by an approved organisation, or by a person approved by the court, like a relative or friend.
The court can review any supervised contact arrangements, especially if a temporary Protection Order is made. This means both parties may have to go to court.
The parent or other person who has day-to-day care of the child should talk to the child about supervised contact in a way they’ll understand, using plain, simple words.
Tell them where the visits will take place. If it’s not a place they know, describe it as a safe, friendly place where they can meet the other adult. If possible, visit the place with the child before the supervised contact starts.
Explain about the supervisors – that they are kind adults who enjoy helping children, and that they’ll be close during the visits and will make sure the visits are fun.
Make sure the child knows who will be picking them up and that they’ll be returning home.
Sessions are more positive if the child chooses what happens during them. You can then follow their lead and join in and have fun.
Talk should be about play – not about adult issues. If the child asks a tricky question, try changing the subject or distracting them.
When it’s time to go, you may be feeling emotional, but take care not to upset your child. They need to know that you’re OK. This is a good time for a hug if the child wants one – and then a quick, happy, positive goodbye.
The contact sessions will be supervised by someone like a relative or friend (if the Family Court agrees) or a professional organisation or individual approved by the court.
Professional supervisors will have had a lot of training. All supervisors – whether paid employees or family members or friends – will offer a safer service to the child if they:
All supervisors will have clear rules to help keep everyone safe. Some rules may be about that visit only, such as the times each of them arrive and leave, what time the contact will take start and how long the session will last. There could also be general rules, such as no smoking or using cellphones during the session.
The child’s caregiver and the visiting adult may have to sign a contract setting out the rules.
If parents or caregivers are concerned about the child’s safety during the visits, they should talk to the supervisor before the first visit.
The adults also need to feel safe, including the supervisors. Some organisations make sure the caregiver and the visiting adult arrive and leave at different times and have more than 1 staff member there.
A visiting adult who keeps to agreed rules is also safe from any false allegations being made against them.
When the court orders that contact be supervised by an approved organisation, the cost of the sessions is paid for by the government unless ordered otherwise. In other cases, the government does not pay the cost of the supervised contact.
The person with day-to-day care can ask about the contact session, but they should remember that confidentiality may be an issue. A child’s safety takes priority over confidentiality.
If supervised contact has been ordered and paid for by the court, the organisation doing the supervising will report to the court at the end of 8 sessions or 3 months, whichever is earliest. Organisations will normally not give information to a lawyer representing a parent or other party.
Contact must continue to be supervised until the court decides otherwise. The person whose contact with the child is being supervised will need to apply to the court and ask for unsupervised contact. The court will have to be satisfied that the child will be safe.
In many cases, the relationship between the adult and the child improves relatively quickly to the point where supervision is no longer needed. But, in some cases, supervised contact may continue for a number of years.
To find a supervised contact service, you can:
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